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Fact-checking 3 claims about proof of vaccination requirements

New York City became the first U.S. city to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination at restaurants, gyms and other businesses. Now other areas are following suit.
Credit: AP
A proof of vaccination sign is posted at a bar in San Francisco on Thursday, July 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Haven Daley)

As the highly contagious delta variant continues to spread across the United States, many businesses and cities have been rethinking their COVID-19 vaccination requirements. In August, New York City became the first major U.S. city to announce that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 need to show proof of vaccination in order to dine indoors, work out at the gym or go see a movie.   

As more cities and businesses are requiring people to show proof of vaccination if they want to enjoy certain activities, the VERIFY team is answering a few of your questions. 

QUESTION 1

Can private businesses ask customers for proof of COVID-19 vaccination? 

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is true.

Yes, private businesses can ask customers for proof of COVID-19 vaccination. 

WHAT WE FOUND

Most private businesses like a restaurant or theater can ask customers to show their vaccine card or refuse service — because when it’s their business, it’s their rules.

According to legal expert Page Pate, businesses cannot discriminate against customers based on race, sex, religion, and medical disability, but vaccinations are not on that list. 

"A restaurant has the absolute right to decide if they want their customers vaccinated. There is nothing in the law to prevent them from doing that," Pate explained.

Glenn Cohen, a professor at Harvard Law School, told VERIFY that private businesses asking for proof of vaccination is not a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, HIPAA only applies to covered entities, such as health care providers and health insurers, and their business associates.

“Because the average business is not a covered entity or a business associate of a covered entity within the meaning of HIPAA, the statute does not prohibit them from asking them about vaccination status,” said Cohen. 

QUESTION 2 

Do federal employment laws prohibit employers from requiring COVID-19 vaccines?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, federal employment laws don't prohibit employers from requiring COVID-19 vaccines.

WHAT WE FOUND

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), there are no federal laws in place stopping an employer from requiring employees to be vaccinated as long as the employer makes reasonable accommodations to comply with the American Disabilities Act.

Charles Johnson, a labor and employment lawyer based in North Carolina, told VERIFY employers must also provide accommodation for employees who have religious reasons for not getting vaccinated. But otherwise, he says employers can generally require vaccinations.

“Governments, employers and others can mandate vaccines in the interest of public health and safety,” he said. “And there are very few limitations.”

QUESTION 3

Are there any alternatives to carrying around your COVID-19 vaccine card? 

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is true.

Yes, there are alternatives to carrying around a COVID-19 vaccine card. 

WHAT WE FOUND

According to the CDC, after a person receives their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, they should get a vaccination card that tells what COVID-19 vaccine they received, the date they received it, and where they received it. The CDC advises people to keep their vaccination card in case they need it for future use, and also mentions taking a photo of the card as a backup copy.

As of Aug. 17, people 12 and older in New York City are required to show proof they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in order to enjoy indoor activities in the Big Apple. This new requirement is called the Key to NYC

According to New York City officials, to show proof of vaccination people can show a physical, photo or photocopy of their CDC vaccination card or a physical, photo or photocopy of their NYC vaccination record or another official immunization record from within or outside the U.S. 

People can also upload a photo of their CDC vaccination card or another official immunization record to the NYC COVID Safe App or the Excelsior Pass (or Excelsior Pass Plus) apps, along with their photo ID.

Other states in the U.S., along with Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, also have digital COVID-19 vaccine record options through their department of health websites. COVID-19 vaccine providers, like CVS, Walmart and Sam’s Club, also allow users to store their vaccine records online. 

If you lost your vaccination card or don’t have a copy, the CDC says you should contact your vaccination provider directly in order to access your vaccination record. 

If you cannot contact your vaccination provider directly, you should contact your state health department’s immunization information system (IIS), which you can find on the CDC website. If you enrolled in v-safe or VaxText after your first vaccine dose, the CDC says you can also access your vaccination information using those tools.

More from VERIFY: Yes, some COVID-19 vaccine doses are past their initial expiration date, but that doesn’t mean they’re unsafe

The VERIFY team works to separate fact from fiction so that you can understand what is true and false. Please consider subscribing to our daily newsletter, text alerts and our YouTube channel. You can also follow us on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. Learn More »

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